In the world of extreme metal, few voices are as intense and unique as that of Devin Townsend. As bi-polar as they come, the guitar wizard’s chosen therapy has always been music, and Townsend has been churning out a style of music very much his own. Beginning with a teenage stint as a member of Steve Vai’s band, Townsend began developing a fresh take on metal that progressed through projects like the Devin Townsend Band, Ocean Machine, and, most notably, Strapping Young Lad. With SYL’s first two studio releases, Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing and City, “Hevy Devy” made his name as one of the heaviest and most innovative artists in metal, and love them or hate them, NO ONE sounded quite like Strapping Young Lad. After listening to the band’s new self-titled album, it becomes clear that that’s not going to change anytime soon.
To anyone versed in Strapping’s previous work, SYL is instantly familiar. Townsend’s studio perfection is something of a personal trademark, and the production here is typically flawless. Few people on the planet, if any, are as able as Devin Townsend to utilize guitar and sound engineering to create a colossal wall of overwhelming sonic punishment that anyone without studio-quality speakers can’t help but feel as if they’re not experiencing fully. Match that with Gene Hoglan’s peerless speed and bombast on his twin bass drums and it adds up to one of the heaviest bands ever burned on to plastic. Strapping Young Lad are at their best when they tread where others simply aren’t able to; on tracks like “Dirt Pride” and the aptly-named “Relentless,” SYL rip through mind-boggling thrash that leaves the listener wondering whether to simply take it in, slack-jawed, or bang his head until a disk ruptures.
But while the new album keeps up the pummeling flood SYL is known for, not all of the tracks blister along with unceasing energy. Some tunes find the band stretching their creative skills past the ungodly blasting. On “Last Minute,” the Lad mixes in black metal harmonies with death riffage, and “Force Fed” paints a portrait of an emotional Townsend that borders on melodramatic. Other tracks like “Rape Song” and “Devour” just aren’t up to snuff. The band’s crushing sound is sure to baffle the uninitiated, but a seasoned extreme metal afficianado is going to find a few tracks on this disc that simply aren’t of much interest. Sadly, one element of the Strapping formula that is in short supply on the album is the tongue-in-cheek humor which peppered their older stuff. This disc, inspired by September 11, doesn’t have that fun lighthearted sense of not taking itself too seriously that made Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing so endearing.
Faults aside, SYL remains essential for any true fan of the band. While not an instant classic, anyone interested in experiencing some of the heaviest music on the planet is sure to find plenty to like on this release, and its repertoire is sure to bolster Strapping Young Lad’s live set during their supporting role on their spring tour with Meshuggah. All in all, a solid addition to the Townsend catalog.
Nate Smith is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.